The holiday season can be a time of happiness, of coming together with friends and family. However, it also comes with a surprising, perhaps shocking statistic. Studies from law firms have shown that divorce rates can rise by one-third after the holidays, leading some people to grimly refer to January as “Divorce Month.”
Now, tracking divorce statistics is complicated for numerous reasons. And other studies suggest that March and August are when divorce filings peak. But, Google trends for “divorce” often spike around January and divorce lawyers note that there’s always a steep increase in interest about the divorce process during the first month of the year.
“I always get a lot of questions about the so-called ‘New Year’s Resolution Divorce,’” says Eric Solotoff, co-chair of the Family Law Department at the law firm Fox Rothschild. “It is a phenomenon that we see every year.”
So what accounts for the post-holiday divorce?
Why Does Divorce Spike In January?
According to Solotoff, the biggest reason that divorces rise following the holidays is a desire for one person in the marriage to start fresh and begin another year with a clean slate.
“Whatever unhappiness they’ve had, they don’t want it to last another year,” he says. “So they will say, ‘At least by the next new year, I will have made a fresh start and found happiness or escaped unhappiness.’”
Now, the desire to end a marriage in January usually isn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. It tends to come on the heels of months, or even years, of discontent. Solotoff notes that he’s had clients who have contacted him in November or December to begin the process, but don’t tell their partners until after the season has passed.
“They don’t want to ruin Christmas for their children or their families,” he says. “But once that’s behind them and the new year begins, they’ll start the process in earnest.”
The desire to make the holidays happy may pale in comparison to the desire to get back at their spouse, adds Solotoff. In those cases, a person may opt to drop a divorce bombshell on their partner in December simply out of spite.
“There are some people who get a little bit of enjoyment out of ruining a person’s holiday,” he says. “I’ve seen that happen. Where people have said, ‘I want you to serve them right before Christmas.’ Sometimes that’s a case of them wanting the other person to know that they are hurting or that they have been hurt.” Thankfully, that kind of pettiness is rare.
For couples who are in a shaky marriage already, the holidays may prove to be the tipping point. They may already be feeling the strain of their marriage eroding, along with the distance and lack of connection, and the season becomes the final straw.
“Couples that aren’t solid in all the areas of their relationship find that the strain and pressure of the season is just more than they can bear,” says Tiffany Lovell-Stonehocker, a mental health expert and cognitive behavioral therapist. “Their patience with each other is gone, their ability to love, listen, and heal things is gone and they choose to give up.”
How The Holidays Lead To Divorce
In addition to problems that exist between partners, external factors like family members and disagreements with in-laws around the holidays add to the strain.
“The holidays are a good time for family disputes,” says Solotoff. “If there are already problems with each other’s family members, they could very easily blow up over the holidays and prove to be the final straw for some couples. There are expectations of spending time with your spouse’s family members and that can lead to disputes, especially in situations where the two partners already are having problems.”
Financial woes can also play a role in a January divorce, especially in marriages where the couple is not on the same page when it comes to money. Oftentimes, one partner or the other may overextend the family budget in order to give more to their children or other family members, which ultimately drives a wedge between the two partners.
“If the parents are focused on how big they can make things for their children, how much they give them, trying to check off every item on the child’s list in order to show bigger and grander offerings of love, it creates massive tension and stress between the parents and can lead to divorce,” says Lovell-Stonehocker.
How To Not Become Another Statistic
There are some couples who may not even be aware that there’s a problem or that their marriage may be on the chopping block. For them, the first indication that there is a problem may well be when they get served papers in January.
However, in these instances, it’s important to be observant. Even though you may be shocked when you suddenly get the papers, chances are the signs of trouble were there all along.
“If people aren’t talking, if they’re not having sex, if they’re fighting all the time, these are all warning signs,” says Solotoff. “People sometimes just get blindsided because they’ve gotten into this rut of unhappiness that they don’t know how to get out of, or they don’t even try to get out of.”
As with any time of year, the biggest key to keeping a marriage intact through the holidays is communication. Couples who can talk about their issues — family, finances, or anything else — stand a better chance of making it through to the New Year.
“If the budget was over-extended, it’s time to work together to recover it and heal it,” says Lovell-Stonehocker. “If there was family drama and one spouse felt rejected or betrayed or violated, it’s time to face it together, find the truths and set some boundaries for going forward. If there was silence between them because of stress and disagreements, it’s time to open up the communication channels and start healing together.”